Rhode Island’s Progress on Emissions Reduction Not Enough to Meet 2030 Mandate
December 11, 2022
PROVIDENCE — Twenty months after the Act on Climate was signed into law, Rhode Island is already in danger of missing its first big emissions reduction mandate.
This week the state’s Executive Climate Change Coordinating Council (EC4), the supergroup of cabinet-level agencies that lead climate policy, released a draft of its emissions reduction report, indicating that, even if the state adopted some aggressive climate policy measures, it could miss its 2030 greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction mandate by as much as half a million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents (MMTCO2e).
Under the Act on Climate, the state is required by 2030 to reduce GHG emissions to 45% below 1990 baseline levels. A decarbonization analysis performed by the Acadia Center and Rocky Mountain Institute projects emissions in 2030 to be 7.69 MMTCO2e, compared to the 1990s’ baseline of 12.48 MMTCO2e.
Part of the law also requires the EC4 to issue a number of reports and strategies on meeting the emission reduction mandates in the law.
“This is a very simple, preliminary model that verifies Rhode Island is moving in the right direction, but not quite at the point where we can be confident in our success,” wrote the authors of the state’s GHG emissions reduction plan.
The actual outcomes could be significantly worse if the state doesn’t get its act together. The final projections assume state leaders will follow many of the final recommendations included in the report.
Some of the recommendations are happening right now. The Legislature last year passed the Renewable Energy Standard, which requires an additional 9.5% of carbon offsets for every kilowatt-hour of electricity sold annually. Gov. Dan McKee earlier this year also signed a new procurement agreement for up to 1,000 megawatts of offshore wind.
Others seem uncertain. The report sets a target for 30% penetration of electric vehicles, or 86,000 registered EVs on the road, in order for the transportation sector to meet its 2030 emissions reduction mandate. Rhode Island currently only has 6,275 registered EVs.
Meanwhile, the tipping point for mass adoption of EVs remains elusive. The Financial Times reported earlier this week that electric car battery prices rose for the first time in over a decade. Lithium, cobalt, nickel, and other components have seen steep price increases since the start of 2021, due in part to increasing demand and supply scarcity.
Reducing transportation sector emissions is key to meeting the requirements of the Act on Climate: transportation accounts for a whopping 35% of all GHG emissions in Rhode Island, according to the latest Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory compiled by the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management.
The report also acknowledges the need to implement projects outlined in the Transit Master Plan and Bicycle Mobility Plan, but also notes that “fully funding both the TMP and BMP are not possible currently.”
The two plans, originally adopted in late 2020, lay out a step-by-step guide for state planning and transportation officials to beef up and improve rail, bicycle, and bus infrastructure throughout the state.
But activists say both plans have been quietly shelved by state officials, who instead favor repairing and widening a number of high-profile bridges and highways and that everyday Rhode Islanders are increasingly left behind by the transit system.
According to the EC4’s report, implementing the Transmit Master Plan to grow ridership from 53,000 to 87,000 daily passenger trips would require an annual capital investment of more than $100 million over the next two decades, with operating costs rising from $130 million to $280 million over the same time period.
But despite funding concerns for both plans, the state has money to burn. WPRI reported last month that Rhode Island was on track to finish its fiscal year with an extra $610 million in the bank, with at least $80 million stemming from the previous year’s budget surplus. State leaders have remained quiet on whether and how that money might be spent.
The report’s other recommendations include starting a thermal standard plan to wind down the state’s reliance on fossil fuels for heating, increase market penetration of electric heating systems to 15%, reduce the amount of natural gas leaks, and ensure the gas distribution system reaches “carbon neutrality.”
The EC4 said it will work on implementing the action items listed in its report but noted it will have to be done carefully to meet the mandates in state law.
“In the near term, prospects for federal support in many areas looks strong, particularly from the federal Bi-Partisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act,” the committee wrote. “However, these federal funds will not provide complete support needed for our efforts and state funds will be needed.”
The EC4 is expected to vote on the report later this month. DEM officials are expected to release the GHG emissions inventory within the next few weeks.